Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – February 27/28, 2016 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So there He is – Christ Jesus the Lord, and He casts out a demon that is mute. And the demon is gone, the fellow can talk. Should be the end of the story, right? I mean, what is there to complain about? And yet what do we hear in our text this evening/morning? “But some of them said, 'He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,' while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” So folks, you ever had a day where you feel under appreciated? Where you've done good work and no one notices? How about this – Jesus casts out a demon, and people gripe. Meh, You're probably just in league with Satan! Meh, we wanted a cooler, more spectacular sign from heaven. How's that for lousy? And yet, Jesus knows what's really going on. Folks are just making excuses – and so Jesus is going to go on the offensive today – He's going to fight our excuses and tell us what's really going on.

First, the excuses at hand. “But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?'” Alright – point one. You realize your argument is basically that, all of a sudden, Satan's become stupid. That Satan has become a blithering idiot fighting against himself. Really? That's your argument, really? Actually, your argument is even worse than that. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” A few chapters earlier in Luke, the disciples sort of freaked out because they saw just random Jewish folks casting out demons in Jesus' name. So, you want to accuse them? I mean, it's one thing if you don't like me, but if you are going to say that I'm in league with the Devil, and your sons are using my name, you're really saying your kids are in league with the Devil. You sure you want to go there? What Jesus is doing here is just picking apart their silly gripes. But then He gets to the heart of the matter.

“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” You guys want a sign from heaven? Do you know what is going on – God is here. One of the Church Fathers, I can't remember which, would like to refer to Jesus and the Spirit as the hands of God – the way in which the Father accomplishes stuff. How does God create – by the Word. How does God give life – by the Spirit, breathing the breath of life into Adam's nostrils, or by the Spirit calling, gathering, and enlightening the whole Christian Church. So Jesus is declaring to these folks, “quit dancing around it and admit it – God is at work here.”

But so why don't they like this fact? Why don't they like it when God is here? Why do they grouse, why do they want some distant sign off in heaven rather than something up close and personal? Well, because when Jesus comes, it's not a gentle thing. Being as I'm back in Illinois, I remember my old grade school description of what March is supposed to be – in like a lion, out like a lamb. Well, before Jesus goes quietly to His death and is silent like a sheep before its shearers, Jesus comes in like the Lion of Judah, busting everything up. Or, as Jesus puts it, He comes as the Stronger Man. Listen: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Let me tell you what is going on folks. So there was Satan, who had conquered this world, tempted Adam, and Satan's sitting there all smug, thinking he rules the roost. Well, I, Jesus, am the the stronger man, and I kick his miserable backside all over the place – I tell the man made mute by a demon to speak and well, as the Psalm goes, O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. Because that demon possessed man, he is one I want, he is one I've come to save. And here you folks are grumbling and complaining – and you know why? Because in your smug, sinful pride, you thought you were perfectly fine and good and decent, and here I come, and I poke holes in your own pride, I shatter the excuses in which you trusted. This all freaks you out because “Whoever is not with me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Sort of blunt, isn't it – but I want to note something here for you to just keep in your back pocket until later – whoever does not “gather” - in Greek that is “synagogue” - it's the same word. So just have in the back of your mind synagoguing with Jesus, churching with Jesus. But at the moment, Jesus goes on to more fully explain what's going on, how these “nice, pious” people could end up basically cheering for Satan. Jesus says to them, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first.'” Alright grumblers, here's what's going on with you. God has worked mighty things in your life – rescued you and your fathers over and over and over. Yet Satan and his minions are still active, and they aren't dumb – and they come back to tempt you again, to attack you again. And what do they find? You welcome them, and you become even worse – because now you're open to all sort of wickedness, because after all, you think you've got your house in order, you think everything's just fine the way it is.

Think about it, my dear friends. There was a demon that was messing with a fellow, made him mute. That's pretty bad. But which is a worse state? I mean, Jesus comes and rescues the mute man, and he rejoices – but these excuse-makers? Oh, they can talk, but a fat lot of good it does them! In fact, they are much more wicked, they are much more worse off than that poor mute guy was. Sure, he had a demon, but at least he wasn't talking trash to Jesus and blowing smoke up his skirt. And so Jesus is looking at these grumblers, seeing their thoughts, and He says to them, “You folks are worse off than than demon possessed guy was – and it's because you make excuses, you don't want to be rescued, you don't think you need any rescue. In fact, you fight and claw to stay in Satan's kingdom when I come to rescue you and bring you to My kingdom.”

And as Jesus is speaking these things, a gal in the crowd pipes up and says, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed!” That is a Jewish way of giving a compliment – it's sort of saying, “boy, you must make your momma proud – she must be one classy dame to have given birth to you.” However, Jesus is One to always put us back on the proper focus. He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” And there's something neat here – when a strong man, fully armed, “guards” his own palace... blessed are those who hear the Word of God and... it's the same word used for “guards”. So – we have a great contrast here between Christ on the one hand and upon Satan and his demons and even the gripers on the other. And there is conflict, there is fight there – and this is something that you are part of – you are thrust right into the middle of this – for Satan does not go quietly, and Satan wants to snatch you away from Christ. How does Jesus protect you from this? He synagoues – He churches with you. He waters and fills you. He gives you His Word.

This is where the text is really, really neat, where it really goes into the life of the Church as we gather together as God's Baptized around His Word and Sacraments. Listen again - “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather (synagogue) with Me scatters.” What is the point of this place, this house? God Himself is present, Jesus is here, here to be Immanuel, God with us. We are not scattered to the four winds, but rather we are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified here together. This is church talk, this is being gathered around Christ and His Word. And by what reason, by what right are we gathered here? Is it by virtue of our great moral character, or our innate righteousness? Is that our entrance into this place? Nope – you do belong here, but the proof that you belong here – is there, at the font, at your baptism. Hear again what Jesus says of the unclean spirit - “it passes through waterless places.” You, my dear friends, are not a waterless place. You are baptized, you are full of water, springs of living water well up within you because Christ Jesus has given you life. And when satan's minions come to you, they do not find you empty. You are with Christ – indeed, you are filled with Christ – you are sopping wet with Christ in your baptism, you are filled with Christ's own Body and Blood. He prepares a feast for you in spite of Satan, your enemy. His cup, given and shed for you, overfloweth. This is who you are – this is the reality we see and find and experience here in God's House.

And thus the call. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” What happens when you hear God's Word here? Well, let's do a bit more Catechism review – What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by KEEPING it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do you see how that works? As Christians we are to hear the Word, we are to treat it as valuable and continually pay attention to it – we are to protect and safeguard this time in the Word. Because it is in hearing the Word of God, in hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in hearing of His battle against Satan, His victory by His death upon the Cross and His Resurrection, that Satan is defeated in our lives. The Word of God gives to us what it says, what it proclaims – and so when the Word of God proclaims Christ’s victory and forgiveness, it drives Satan away from us and forgives us our sins. It returns us to the very truth and reality of our Baptism. Indeed, with the Word of God there is always the Holy Spirit – wherever the Word of God is being proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is – and when the Word of God enters through your ears, the Holy Spirit enters there as well. And what does that mean? It means you are not left like that empty house, simply waiting to be consumed by wickedness – it means that you are a filled house, filled by God – indeed that you are God’s own temple. Do you see how this works? You hear the Word of God which cuts across your excuses and casts them down. You hear the Word of God which pricks your conscience and brings you to confess your sins. And then most wonderfully, you hear the Word of God which brings you Christ Jesus and gives the life and salvation He gives to you. You are full, you are safe, you are rescued from Satan’s Kingdom and you are in the Kingdom of Christ.

And so dear friends, be on the look out for the appealing excuses to avoid the Word of God that Satan will throw your way – for the old evil foe knows that while he is stronger than you and can over power you, he cannot overpower Christ and His Word. And Christ Jesus, in His love for you, will continue to bring you His Word, and He will pull your eyes off of your excuses and make you to see and remember His love for you again and again. This is the Victory Christ Jesus wins for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent midweek 2 – John 8

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Let me talk a bit about how John's Gospel works. John does a few things that are unique with his Gospel, how he tells the story of Jesus. For one, John gives a lot of commentary - “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That's commentary. John likes to explain a lot of deep stuff – in fact, John records a lot of conversations where Jesus is explaining deep stuff – like our Gospel tonight. But also important to understanding John's Gospel is the old Jewish idea of two or three witnesses. If you were going to make a legal case under the Jewish law, you needed at least two witnesses, and three is even better. That was proof. And in John's gospel, John doesn't talk about Jesus performing miracles – Jesus performs signs – big visual proofs of who He is – witnesses, as it were. After Jesus changes water to wine at Cana, we hear, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.” When Jesus heals an official's son in chapter 5, that's the second sign. Then there's other healings, the feeding of the 5000... but these are all gravy. Jesus has demonstrated His bonafides as one sent from God, one to whom the people should listen.

And then we get our Gospel lesson tonight. Jesus is in the temple preaching, and He is just getting all the goodie-goodies riled up. They've already tried to arrest Him once, and He's just stopped them from stoning a woman caught in adultery – and who doesn't like a good stoning, especially if it happens to tie up any loose ends on what could be a scandal against your pristine reputation. Nope, Jesus comes, and all our self-centered fun stops. And then Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Now, let's ponder this imagery here. The classic way of distinguishing between good and evil was light and dark. That's pretty near universal. And let's face it – bad things are much more apt, even now, to happen in the dark, in the night. That's when it's much easier to get up to no good. You shine a light, and that's when all the cockroaches scurry away. Light casts out, banishes darkness, and then, when there is light you can see. When you can see, you can be useful, you can do good. You can see beauty. You understand, you know where you are going. And so when Jesus says “I AM the light of the world” He is saying that He is God come to banish, drive out all sin and wickedness – and instead He will lead, He will show us what is good, right, and salutary – that He will make life worth living. In Christ we will know our purpose, in Christ we will be able to serve rightly. In Christ we will be protected from Satan. There will be life – the light of life – the light that rescues us from our sins and the darkness of death. And God Himself, the great I AM, is here to do this.

This is a pretty awesome statement, is it not? And yet, we hear this: “So the Pharisees said to Him, 'You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.'” Oh, there was a subtle shift that turned this into a really bad legal argument on the Pharisees' part. Yes, Jesus here is talking about Himself, He is explaining who He is. And in a Jewish court of law, your own testimony about yourself wasn't enough – you needed other witnesses. The thing is – Jesus has given them other witnesses – the folks at the wedding at Cana, the 5000, on and on – more than enough. Now, once your bona fides are established, then you do get to talk about yourself and explain what is going on – but the simple fact is, the Pharisees don't want to hear it. So they duck, they dodge.

Why? Why don't they want to hear it? Jesus basically says that they know nothing of God. Of course they don't – they can't see and recognize God standing in front of them! “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I AM the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness about Me.” Jesus does it again – says “I AM”. Asserts that He is God, then refers to the Father almighty. And the folks, they have no clue. “They said to Him therefore, 'Where is Your Father?'” Alright, where's you dad? We need to have a little talk with pops cause his son's talking a bit of crazy talk here! That's what they are thinking. And so Jesus lays it out - “You know neither Me nor my Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” Do you get what Jesus is telling them? You don't have a clue, you don't even have an idea of who I am or who God is – you've been walking around in darkness, in love with yourself and with your own sin.

And then He spells it out even more bluntly. “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” And so, the folks think, “Well, he's going somewhere we can't go – um – obviously he's going to kill Himself because that's where we being good Jews wouldn't go. Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of logical sense – it's a bad mental leap. Grasping at straws. But here's something to remember. Sin is stupid. Seriously. Sin is dumb. There's never been a time where we can sit back and look at something sinful we've done and say, “Oh, that was a brilliant idea.” But when we are trapped in sin, in love with ourselves and our sin, we don't make sense. And that sin leads to death. Jesus tells them, “You are from below. I am from above. You are of the world. I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Guys, I can't spell it out any better. I'm dropping I AM's all over the place – I said I am light, I am from the beginning, I am from above. I am God, and I am here to bring light and life and salvation – but if you refuse to believe... you're up the creek without a paddle.

And then we hear the Pharisees say, “Who are You?” Now, that's not an honest question – the way it's phrased in the Greek is dismissive – more like, “You're... who?” Yeah... right. They just don't get it, they are dismissive, they don't even want to understand. There's more back and forth, and then finally Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I can do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me.” One more I AM. Guys, when it boils down to it, you're going to see and know only after you have crucified Me, that I'm God, that I'm the Messiah, that I AM. 
Here's the thing about Jesus. He's God, and He comes to win salvation and forgiveness. And that really just tramples on what our old adam, what our sinful flesh wants. In so far as we are sinners, we like sin, we like the darkness – and when we are in our moods and up to no good, we don't want God around. We'd much rather prefer a distant God who happens to give us stuff but doesn't mess with our lives - dare I say, not to pick on you guys, but sort of like the stereotypical teenager – holed up in her room all angsty, leave me alone mom unless you're giving me food or money, blowing off everything dad says, thinking he must be the biggest idiot in the world. We've all been there. In fact, we're all still somewhat there, because that's what we're all like by our sinful nature. We want to brush off and blow off God and just be left alone and do what we want to do. But that's not what happens. Christ Jesus, the Light of the World comes – and you know what? He does shine on our sin. And a part of us hates that. But it is for our own good. And you know what? All our whining, all our being difficult, all our sin, doesn't stop Jesus from doing what He's going to do. He is the Light of the World, and He is going to bring light back to this world, and nothing will stop Him. And so to shine upon this world, to shine upon us, He is lifted up, He goes to the Cross – because that's what the Heavenly Father wants – your redemption. And He does that upon the Cross.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.” And here is the beautiful thing. Christ Jesus is the light of the world, and even though you are and remain sinners, my dear friends, and even though you will remain so until you die – you have heard the Word of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe. You have been given new life in the waters of Holy Baptism – you are no longer just old man, you are new Man as well, a Christian, a little Christ, who knows Christ Jesus, the Light of the World, and who rejoices in that Light that brings you forgiveness, that rescues you from sin and death, that rescues you from yourself. Christ Jesus has broken through your callous and dark heart, and by His Word and Spirit He has given you light and life, given you Himself, tied you unto Himself in Baptism. Over and against the darkness of this world, Christ Jesus is the Light of the World for you, all thanks and praise be to God.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lent 2

Lent 2 – February 20/21, 2016 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
If you would understand the battle our Lord wages against Satan this Lent, indeed, if you would understand the Christian faith, you need to have your pride kicked out of you and be made humble. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson today, for if you view your life and the world with eyes that are proud and self-focused, you will miss, you will fail to see your humble Lord Christ Jesus and the salvation He wins for you. I know this is a bold statement, but what we see in our text is the second half of a comparison, a comparison between the pride of the Jews, on the one hand, and the humble faith of the Canaanite woman on the other.

Before we look at our Gospel text, we need consider what happened before hand – after all, our lesson starts, “and Jesus went away from there…” Away from where? Well, Jesus was in Judea, and if you read chapter 15 from the beginning, you see that Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem had come up to Jesus and started grilling him about commandments and tradition. Now, we are not going to look at the first 20 verses in detail, but what we see in them is pride. You have this pride that these Jewish leaders show in their heritage, in the fact that they are Jews. You have pride in their works, how good they are, how obedient they are. In fact, when Jesus responds to them and teaches them, they get offended – the disciples actually come up to Jesus all worried because He said something that offended such good, fine Jewish folks. The disciples too hold on to their Jewish pride a bit too much – they too view themselves as good people because, after all they are nice Jewish folks who try their best to follow all the commandments and rules.

So Jesus leads them away from Judea, and He “withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” So they leave the Jewish lands behind, and suddenly this foreign woman shows up begging for mercy. First, let’s consider this. At that time Jewish men didn’t like non-Jews, by in large. Jewish men didn’t like women, by in large. So basically there is no sort of type of person that a guy holding onto Jewish cultural pride would disdain and despise more than a Canaanite woman. Just would be repulsed by her. So here you have a contrast between the “Good” Jewish folks and the despised Canaanite woman. Bear this in mind. And this woman comes up and begs for Jesus to help her daughter who is possessed. And she asks beautifully. First, she calls Jesus “Lord” – calls Him God. She calls Him “Son of David” – not only God but also the One who by rights should be the earthly ruler, the Ruler who should dominate and crush her own people. When she calls Jesus the Lord, when she calls Him Son of David, this is a powerful statement of who Jesus is. True God, true Man. So this gal is spot on theologically. And as Christ comes to fight off Satan and to destroy His power, casting out the demon that is bothering her daughter is right up His wheelhouse – simple, easy, knock this one out of the park.

“But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, a lot of people will make this the focus of the text – and their sermons on this text will become sermons on how we should be persistent in prayer, how even when it seems like God doesn’t answer us we should keep on praying. And that is true – be persistent in your prayer. But I’m going to say that Christ isn’t quiet here in order to teach us to pray more – He’s quiet to drive home a point with the disciples, with us. So there Jesus is, just letting this woman wail at Him, and finally the disciples intervene. “And His disciples came and begged Him saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” And the disciples fail miserably. They give the world's worst prayer. Send her away. Not “please heal her quickly, Jesus.” Not, “Hurry Lord, and beat down Satan.” So strong, so powerful is the disciples’ self-pride, and so powerful is their disdain of this woman that they beg, beg Jesus to send her away. Send her away, cast her away from us as though she herself were a demon, not a mother pleading for aid against a demon.
Jesus will now throw the disciples’ pride right back in their face. “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” Note, Jesus isn’t talking to the woman here – He’s answering the disciples. Alright disciples, you think you are so high and mighty because you are Jews, you think you are the only ones worthy of interacting with the Messiah – fine, I guess I can’t deal with her since she’s not as cool as you – you’ll just have to put up with her begging, because if I'm to be the pious jerk of a fellow that you want me to be, I'll just have to ignore her. Jesus just throws their pride and arrogance right back at them.

Then a thing that is wondrous happens. “But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The woman is adamant – she knows that Jesus is the One who can help her, and so she is going to keep on seeking His help. Excellent on her part. But before He aids her, Jesus is going to have her help in teaching the disciples. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’” That answer is true – I mean, if any of you let your children starve because you gave their dinner to the dogs, well, that would just be horrible. But the answer, well, if you imply that a woman is a female dog, that was just as insulting in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. And remember what I had said earlier – the Pharisees had been offended by what Jesus had said earlier in this chapter – if anything then we should expect this woman to be offended, to say, “How dare you Jesus.” Her pride would surely be thoroughly cut by this statement.

But it’s not. Her pride and arrogance are already done for. “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.’” Jesus says to this woman, “you are lowly and you do not deserve My help.” And the woman says, “You’re right, Lord, I do not deserve your help – I am a lowly dog, but masters care for their dogs, so I know You will care for me.” Do you see what happened? Because the woman isn’t trying to defend her own ego, because the woman isn’t concerned with her status or how respected she is, because she does not act in pride, she sees Christ Jesus for who He is. He is the gracious master who cares even for one as lowly as her.

And we know what happens next. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” The woman understands. When it comes to her faith, to her relationship with God – it is not determined by how wonderful she is. She can claim no noble birth – she’s not from the right family. She doesn’t point to her works. She doesn’t say that she’s been a good little girl who deserves blessings. Rather this – her eyes are focused in humility upon Christ and who He is. She simply confesses that He is God and that He is gracious – and so she sees and understands. By faith she sees Christ.

Dear friends, I cannot overemphasize how dangerous pride is, how dangerous a reliance upon works is. Whenever we start thinking prideful thoughts, be it pride in our heritage – why we were born and raised in this Church – or pride in our works – why, I’m a pretty good person and I do things pretty well – whenever we think along these lines we put our faith in jeopardy. Why? Because thoughts like these focus us upon ourselves. I was raised rightly, I’m from a good family, I do good stuff. I, I, I. And it’s such a false focus. Who cares if you were raised right if you are doing wickedness and foolishness now? Who cares if you came from a good family if you disdain God now? Who cares that you are nice – we’re supposed to be perfect – nice doesn’t cut anything. And yet, in sinful pride, we can want to focus on ourselves, and we forget God, we write Him off, we don’t see our need for His mercy, for His forgiveness. This place, this service becomes less and less important – we start thinking we don’t get anything out of it… which is really saying that we think the forgiveness of sins is worthless, that we don’t really need it. That we don’t really need God, who comes here to be present for us. And pride crushes and tries to kill faith.
Our pride is a problem, and so Christ Jesus calls us to repentance, calls us to humility. He calls us to not think highly of ourselves, but instead to confess that we are both lowly and in need. To confess that we do not deserve any benefits from God, that God doesn’t owe us anything. But rather, simply because He is good, because He is full of love, because Christ Jesus stands and pleads for us, because of these reasons we seek forgiveness and mercy from God, and God does give His forgiveness to us.

It is a beautiful contrast we will see in Lent, in our Lord’s Passion. We can be so proud, we struggle with this pride, we can easily disdain folks and applaud ourselves. But in contrast to this, in contrast to our sin and failure, consider Christ Jesus and His passion. Where does His pride enter in? It never does. Even though He is true God, God Almighty, the very Word which called forth all creation into existence – He lets Himself be arrested, even though legions of angels would come at His command. He lets Himself be mocked and beaten and sorely abused, even though lighting or brimstone could come at His whim and smite those who abused Him. He is not worried about His dignity, but is instead nailed naked to a cross, exposed to the elements for all the world to see, and is left to die. But there, His thoughts are not about His own pride and dignity – His thoughts are upon you, upon wining Salvation for you and forgiveness for your sins of pride and all your sins. That is our Lord’s great humility, His great love for you.

With humility, humility that God brings forth in us by the power of His Word and Spirit, we are taught to see this, taught to believe this. We learn more and more to call out to God, “Have mercy upon us” – knowing that He will have mercy, not because of our goodness, but because of Christ Jesus’ goodness. We know and believe that Christ does not hold Himself aloft and away from us, but He Himself comes down under humble, simple elements of bread and wine, and in His Supper He comes to give us His true Body and Blood for our forgiveness. Pride would have us ignore these mysteries and wonders; pride would have us find better things to do – but Christ Jesus is indeed Your Lord, and He has given you the gift of faith, and He forgives you your sin and gives you strength through His Word and Supper so that you might learn more and more to beat down pride and all sins, and rather to ever more see His love for you more clearly. God grant such grace to us all. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent Midweek 1

Lent Midweek 1 – February 17th, 2016 – John 6:25-40

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Before we look at our Gospel lesson, I want to spend a few moments talking about bread. Bread sort of has a dirty connotation in Modern America. Too many carbs – carbs are bad. And while most of us really like those a nice warm roll, we've learned to put those off to the side and stick to the main part of the meal – the meat, the veggies. And in this, we really don't understand the world that folks lived in during bible times. For us, bread is an accessory to the meal – even with a sandwich it's main job is to carry the ingredients to our mouths. Not so in the ancient world. In Jesus' day bread was the meal, or at least the main part. It's why we pray for our “daily bread”. Bread was what defined food – it's what let you live in the winter when nothing was growing, but there was grain and you could mill and make bread. But as we heard this past weekend, Genesis 3 reminded us that bread was the food of punishment. Yeah, there's winters and lack because of the fall, so you are going to eat bread now, instead of the fruit of the garden, and you are going to eat it by the sweat of your brow. So as we hear our Gospel text, just bear in your mind that bread meant two things in the ancient world. Bread meant you survived, but bread also was a reminder of the impact of sin.

Now to our Gospel. So John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 (which we'll actually hear a few weekends from now), and our text is from a conversation the following day. These are all people who witnessed the miracle, who were fed by Christ. And when they find Jesus, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” Now, these folks had gone around the sea of Galilee looking for Jesus, following after Him – and Jesus chides them. You aren't here for preaching, for Me – you're here to get your belly filled. You're here because you want stuff. You aren't focused on everlasting life, you want to play the system to try to get more junk now. Now, at first this seems harsh, but Jesus was spot on. In response they ask, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Well, isn't that a nice question – how pious and eager these folks are!! Poppycock. They are trying to play the angles, they are trying to play the game. Jesus has just said that He Himself will give them the food that endures to eternal life – give. Gift. Free. Oh, well, what do I need to do to earn this “free” gift – surely You're like some huckster who gives a free sample and then after that you have got to pay, so tell us what we've got to do.

And Jesus tells them. What works must you do? Well, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.” Nothing. Nothing that you'd think of as a work. You believe, and even that belief is a gift from God. It's not about what you do, it's about what I do for you and what I give to you. And that's the way it always is. The point is God for you. Believe this. And, of course – they don't. “So they said to Him, 'What sign do you do, that we may see and believe You? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written 'He gave them bread from heaven.'” Yeah – we ain't buying it. Why should we believe in You, Jesus? And this is an utterly silly complaint – what sign? Um, how about the feeding of the 5000, the reason you ran around a lake to find Jesus? Moreover – yes, Manna is awesome... but do we remember why it happened? Because people grumbled and complained about God? Manna was given to the people of Israel in spite of them. In fact, they ate it so long in the wilderness because they refused to believe God and enter the promised land, they ate it until they were sick of it. Is that really the example you want to use?

And so Jesus starts to correct them again - “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” You're majoring in minors here, folks – don't look to the wilderness and Moses when you've got the Messiah right in front of you. And the folks say, alright, give us this bread. Show us what you've got, Jesus.

And then Jesus says one of the most profound things you will hear. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Now, let's get into an old testament mindset here. First – as will be the case all of these Lenten services – I AM. EGO EIMI. “I Am” is how God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush. And in Hebrew, you never, ever said “I am”. You simply would say “I” and leave off the verb. In fact, in modern Hebrew they don't even technically have a present tense “being” verb, because the 1st person singular of that is God's name. You don't say this. You didn't need to in Greek, either. In Greek you just said “am” and it worked. But here Jesus lays it out – says “I AM”. He claims to be God. And what does He claim to be as God? He claims to be the bread of life.

Adam ate the bread of death. He worked for it, he sweated for it – he ate it, remembering the lush fruit of the garden while he chewed, and he died. Even Manna, that too was a bread of death. The grumblers ate their manna, they ate it until they died in the wilderness, because every adult there in Exodus 16 (except Joshua and Caleb) dies before reaching the promised land as punishment for their refusal to enter. Manna too was a bread of death. Jesus, though, is the bread of life. The bread of everlasting life – in the Old Testament “shall not hunger” and “shall not thirst” were the classic descriptions of the life of the world to come, of the Messianic kingdom. Yeah, the Messiah will come, and there will be no more hunger or thirst – we will be utterly cared for. That's what Jesus is going to do – and how is He going to do it? No longer will bread be the bread of death – Jesus will make it, will make Himself the bread of life.

Jesus goes into detail about how He is going to bring salvation – but let's ponder this image of “bread” again. Bread was the sign of punishment – and what does Jesus do in order to win us salvation? He takes up all our punishment. He fulfills all righteousness, and even though He is holy and perfect and blameless, He takes up the wages of sin, the punishment of sin. He dies upon the cross. But because He dies, death itself is changed. It is no more the end – even should you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live. Christ changes things, changes the way the world works, changes the way we view things – and even the punishment leveled for sin can no longer appall – for Christ has come.

And Christ Jesus your Lord is the bread of life. Because of Him, when you come here, before this altar, before this rail, what is the promise you have? “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” And here, in His Supper, Christ Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives you Himself in, with, and under bread and wine, because He is the bread of life, and He will see you raised to life, true life, not just this dying so-called life that we have now where we age and get frail and things fall apart and everything stinks. No, He is the Bread of Life – He is the one who turns even dying into life. My dear friends in Christ, even as you see the hardships and pains of this life – know that Christ Jesus gives you life eternal, calls you not just to the feast at His altar, but to the everlasting and eternal feast in His Kingdom which shall have no end. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

... and trust

There is a beautiful rhetoric to the explanations to the 10 Commandments in Luther's Small Catechism.  The meaning to the first commandment is "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."  Then, every following meaning begins "We should fear and love God so that...."  It's fantastic -- everything flows from the first.  And we are used to and trained to view our actions in terms of loving and fearing the wrong things.

Of course, what of trust?

Consider, ponder your own actions.  And ask yourself a hard, hard question.  How much of it is a lack of trust, is simple insecurity?

Are you secure?  Do you actually trust God, that He knows what He is doing, even when He allows things in this life that you don't like?

Now, I'll admit, what got me thinking about this was viewing political interaction on facebook.  Even good, kind folks that I know will suddenly become the meanest and coarsest of people when getting into the random fights.  I know I do it myself... it's one of the reasons why I have tried to pull back from the whole melee lately.

And when I looked, when I observed - I saw plenty of false love, plenty of misplaced fear.  I'm used to seeing that.

But you know what?  I saw, beneath both of those, simple insecurity.  False love and misplaced fears run rampant, and why?  Because I am insecure.  I don't trust.  And if *I* don't act, if I don't convince people to do things *my* way, everything will fall apart.

It's a lie.

It's the lie of the tempter from the garden.

"You will be like God."

You will be the source of your own security.

I saw this while watching just obvious ripples of insecurity and fear and desperate appeals for approval go streaking out on-line, but it applies to everything, though.  Every sin, every messed up thought, word, or deed... all driven by insecurity.

To that I say - Christ Jesus has died for you.  You are forgiven.  Because He is risen, you too shall rise.

It's as simple and secure as that.

God grant me faith to remember that more and more over and against my own insecurities!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 13/14 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Mankind had started out in a garden, where things were lush and verdant and vibrant. Indeed, there was no hint of death anywhere. Four rivers watered this garden, an over-abundance of water, and growth, and life. And it was good. But then the Serpent came in, and he told the man, told the woman, that if they just listened to him, that things would be even better. And so, Adam and Eve ate, and they fell. That’s how we normally think of Genesis 3 – when we hear “The Fall” we think of it first and foremost in terms of Adam and Eve falling. We think of it in terms of morality, in terms of spirituality. We also need to think of it in physical terms – and not just for Adam and Eve. Yes, they died… but the world died with them. The garden died with them. Their eating of the fruit became the gateway for death – “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” The earth no longer gladly yields her bounty of life – the earth itself has been stuck by sin, and now instead of simply roaming a lush garden, Adam is going to farm, and it’s going to be hard work. And even then, there will be some places in the earth so touched, so blighted by the impact of sin that nothing will grow there. There will be deserts, there will be wilderness.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus leaves behind that watered area and He goes out into the wilderness. This is most fitting. Adam had sinned, and the garden was lost, the world was lost – and so Jesus goes to where that impact of sin upon the world was most obvious – the desert wilderness. And there stands Jesus, True God and True Man, on a barren landscape. There stands The Word Himself, who had declared, “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit” and yet all He sees there in that place are thorns and thistles at best. Our Lord thus begins His direct confrontation against sin and death and the devil. He enters into that place where the impact of sin is most severe, and there He prepares to make things right. “And after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry.” Again, there’s more Old Testament imagery here. When the flood came, when wickedness was so severe on the earth that it would be wiped out, it lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Or perhaps even more to the point – for 40 years the people of Israel wander the desert due to their grumblings, due to their complaining about food. So there you have Jesus, and see where He is at. He places Himself in the under the full weight, the full pressures that sin and its impacts can bring to bear – tired, sore, hungry, and off in a lifeless place alone. As rough as it can get for one who is still alive, that is where Christ is.

“And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Understand the temptation. Satan isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is God. Satan knows. Rather this – if you are the Son of God, why are You of all people suffering hunger this way? Why, at Your Word these stones could become bread and You could satisfy Yourself. And Satan is right – Jesus could. He could simply and with ease satisfy Himself. But that is not why Christ Jesus is in the wilderness, that’s not why He came down from heaven. He did not come down to serve Himself, but He came down to rescue mankind from sin and death – and that is not done by serving the belly. “But He answered, ‘It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Mere bread is not life, Satan. A full belly doesn’t undo the curse Adam and Eve got themselves into. Adam worked hard in those fields and he ate his share of bread, and he still died, and the deserts remained, and the thorns continued to grow. No, Satan, man doesn’t live simply by bread, and man will never live if he listens to you. Man lives by the Word of God, lives by My Word which created him, and man will live again when I beat down every trial and temptation in His place, when I face you down and die and rise again for Him. I am not here to serve Myself, but to fulfill that Word that I spoke long ago, when I said I would crush your head.

Satan tries again. “Then the Devil took Him to the Holy City and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: He will command His angels concerning you, and: On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” I know who you are Jesus, and I know the Word that You have spoken. Alright – show that Word to be true. Jump. It will be alright. You Yourself has said that it will be okay, that the angels will come. Aren’t you truthful? Why don't you do it? “Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Oh Satan, I am not here to prove how wondrous I am, I am not here to show off signs and wonders to make the people marvel. I’m here to fix things – for years and years these people have put Me to the test, have tried Me, have demanded signs and wonders – and they will again. But that is not why I am here – I am here to put an end to testing, indeed, I am here to put an end to your testing, Satan. I will not do things your way, Satan. My Father and I know what must be done, and while my foot will not strike a stone, it will be bruised, bruised when it lands on your head in full – and you will not distract Me from that.

One more try for Satan. “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give You, if you will fall down and worship me.’” It seemed like a fair offer. Satan’s domain was sin and the power of death, and all the kingdoms of the world were under that, all were tainted and enshadowed by Satan. And so Satan tries to cut a deal – if you want them Jesus, fine. We don’t need to fight, we don’t need to argue – and more importantly, You don’t need to suffer. You’ve taken on a body, You’ve become man, and You won’t like suffering. You don’t like it now – we can work around it, we can prevent the suffering. Simply give in to me, worship me, and I’ll let you run things the way you want. You can have them… just let me have You. Satan makes one last bid at the ancient power play, where he would be on top and God would be beneath him. Jesus will have none of it. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written: You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.” I have come not to simply rule over people, but to free them from bondage to you, to free them from the fear of death. How can that be done if I too worship you, if I too fall into the same trap and doom that they are in? No – there is One God, and they will worship the True God who has won them redemption and deliverance from You. Your temptations have failed, Satan.

And there, in that wilderness, in that lifeless area, Jesus Christ, not only true God but also true Man, did what Adam and Eve failed to do, did what you and I fail to do – He perfectly resisted the temptations of the Devil. There, in that rocky, lifeless place Jesus Christ was shown to be truly alive – showed that He was living as man was meant and created to live, without the fear of Satan. The Lord, the Giver of Life has walked into Satan’s domain and declared that He would not yield an inch of creation to Satan. “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” And Satan has no choice but flee before Christ… and then the angels come. That dead, desolate place becomes holy and sacred – we can miss this. Where is the place where God dwells with the angels ministering to Him? We sing part of it on Communion Sundays – this is Isaiah 6 stuff – “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And there, in the wilderness, far from the that temple where Isaiah had His vision, deep into the domain and rule of Satan – there is the LORD of hosts with His angels, and His glory is there.

Redemption is coming. Salvation is coming. The destruction of sin and death is coming. With the temptation, Christ Jesus begins His active ministry, He strides forth into Satan’s domain and He begins dismantling it. He has resisted the Devil, and the Devil has no choice but to flee before Him. And over these coming weeks in Lent we will see Christ invade domain after domain which Satan thought was his, and we will see our Lord crush Satan again and again… even unto Good Friday itself, where Christ will enter death itself to defeat it. It is an awesome thing to behold God fighting for you, God Himself seeking to free you from sin and death, see Christ fighting the battle you could not. Let us watch and hear with humility and thanksgiving. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday 2016 – Matthew 6

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
What reward do you wish? What's your goal, O Christian? What do you want? I ask this question this Ash Wednesday night, because this is the question that is at the heart of our Gospel lesson for tonight. It's how Jesus starts this section of the Sermon on the Mount. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” There it is – reward talk. What reward are you seeking – an earthly one or one from your Father in heaven? When you strive to do all the things that a Christian is typically supposed to do, what folks think a Christian ought to be doing – what reward, what goal are you seeking?

And Jesus spells it out, and it cuts against our own pride and desire to be praised. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Well, Pastor – I guess I'm scot free since I haven't sounded any trumpets lately when I've done stuff. Really – has it been that long since you've tooted your own horn on your generosity? Because Jesus hits the nail on the head – when we do good, we want recognition. In fact, our society loves recognition! In fact, as a society we train folks that they ought to receive public recognition whenever they do anything. Wednesday is small town paper day – I get three of them in the mail box. Anyone want to bet me whether or not I'd find some pictures of some nice folks who have done nice things, and isn't that just the nicest write up in the paper. Here's your ribbon, here's your gold star. It's how we operate as a culture. Now, getting recognized isn't bad in and of itself, but Jesus here reminds us that our focus should not be getting the praise of men; if we are giving to the needy, if we are helping someone out – shouldn't they be our focus?

And Jesus continues – And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Not only your charity – what's the purpose of your prayer? Why do you pray, what's the goal? Indeed, why do you even come to church? Are you here to be seen by the other people here – so they can tell what a good Christian you are? Do you like it when folks say, “Ah, there they go – such nice people, off to Church again.” Is that the point? Do we come here so folks in the town will think we're nice, pious folks? Now, let's be honest – don't we really sort of kind of care what the folks out there think of us? And not just us as individuals – but as a congregation! We don't want them to think we're too weird or different, kind of want to fit in – yeah, those folks at Trinity are good folks. Not the point. We don't pray here to be seen, we don't yell when pryaing grace before a meal at the restaurant to be heard, and we don't do our personal prayers to be seen by everybody and their brother. If you are praying so that people think better of, you've sort of missed the point.

Now, our Gospel lesson tonight jumps – it skips the Lord's Prayer. Fear not, we'll touch on to that in a bit, but let's continue on in what we heard. Because the Gospel lesson jumps to the third thing that we can twist around towards our own glory. We've had charity, we've had prayer – and now, fasting. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by everyone. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.” Well, see Pastor – now I know I'm off scot free on that one because I'm a good little Lutheran and I wouldn't be caught dead fasting like those Roman Catholics. Except Jesus kind of assumes that we'll be fasting at some point because He goes to to say: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” When. Guess Jesus sort of assumes that sometimes you'll be fasting. Now, before I give anyone heart attacks because they hadn't planned to give anything up for lent – remember what fasting was in the Jewish and Ancient world. Fasting was just the physical practice that went along with repenting. If you were repenting, you'd fast, you wouldn't party. This is what we see in Jonah – oh, we best repent, well, part of that repentance is fasting. In fact, if you've got a prophet coming and saying God's ready to smite you, you throw in some sack-cloth and ashes. And the point that Jesus is making is this – we are so perverse, we are such glory hounds, that we can turn even our repentance, our sorrow over our sin into something that seeks glory. Back in the day, a good pious Jew would fast twice a week – Tuesday and Thursday – just to cover their bases – ah, and look, there's Yakov fasting again, what a good boy. Well, Pastor – we don't do that today, so there's no need to get on our case about that! Okay – and I'm sorry. No, no, I'm really sorry. I want you to know just how sorry I am, see how sorry I am, I really really mean it, you've got to believe me and know that I am just so sorry – you know, I told them over and over again how sorry I was but they just wouldn't listen. Yeah, we can trumpet our repentance even today, just in different ways. And if the point of our repentance is that people see how repentant we are... well, we missed the point.

So it should be abundantly clear that the point is not to be seen by men, to receive praise and pats on the back from them. But there's still a very serious way to misunderstand this text – and that is to think that we should receive earthly rewards for our piety here and now. Well, Pastor – it does say over and over that your Father who sees in secret will see and will reward you. So, I've been nice and quiet about the nice stuff I've done for folks, and I don't draw attention to what a good little Christian I am (only God sees that), and I haven't be trying to look miserable to impress folks. So... where's my reward? Why wasn't the hymn of the day, “O Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” Pastor – I want my reward. Again, not the point.

The point is not the here and now. “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves steal, but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Whenever we think that our actions, our worship should make life here better – whether we want our neighbors to give us rewards now or God to do it – we miss the point. It's putting your heart, your treasure in the wrong place. The point, the goal, the reward is eternal life, given to you by Christ Jesus. Jesus will use that same word for reward a few chapters later on in Matthew in the parable of workers in the vineyard that we heard a few Sundays ago – they all went at the end of the day and received their reward, their wage. That same reward that they all had in common, no matter how long they worked in the vineyard.

My dear friends, your true treasure, your true reward is Christ Jesus and the forgiveness and life that He brings. We don't need to butter up either neighbors or God for earthly stuff – have we not been taught that He will give us our daily bread? That His kingdom will come and His will shall be done? No, our works of love, our prayers, even our repentance are not meant to change our neighbor's opinion of us, or God's opinion, but rather they are to change our attitude, to change our focus – to remind us to focus upon Jesus and His mercy and forgiveness.

Think about it. When you give alms, when you show love – why is that? Is it not because Christ Jesus first loved you? It's not you trying to cause something, but rather it is Jesus working good in you and through you as a result of the love He has shown you. He is the Vine, you are the branches, and you will bear fruit. Even your works, your kindnesses, ought drive you back to Christ Jesus. Or our prayers – do not our prayers throw us and drive us back to Jesus – for we pray in Jesus' Name! We pray as He has taught us. We go before the Father not on the basis of our own merits, but as His Baptized and redeemed children, covered not in our own righteousness but in Christ's. Our prayer is to be about Christ. And indeed, our repentance – when we see our sin, our weakness – that's just the old song – they are weak, I am weak, I see my weakness... they are weak but He is strong, yes, Jesus loves me. Everything in our lives as Christians is designed, is meant to focus us upon Christ, to fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, to make us know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to fix us upon His calling and His election of us and His forgiveness for us.

Because that is your treasure – that is what the Father wills to give you. Life and salvation in Christ Jesus through His death and resurrection. That is why the Father sent His Son into this world; this is why we see Christ Jesus stride towards the Cross. And everything in our lives is a reflection of that, is us taking up our Cross and following Him, not to earn divine brownie points, but because we are focused upon Christ, because we are joined to him in Baptism – do you not know that those of you who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? We are given Christ in His Supper, for whenever we eat this bread or drink this cup, we show forth His death until He comes. This Lent, God be with us as we see Jesus more and more, as we see the great I Am. +

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Quinquagesima – February 6th and 7th, 2016 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Faith. That's a pretty big word for something only 5 letters long. We can toss the word around quite frequently – it's a word we cherish. We Lutherans proudly proclaim “Sola Fide” - by faith alone. That actually was almost our battle cry in the Reformation. So, let's ask the Lutheran question. What does this mean? What is faith, what does it accomplish, what is it for? Our Lord Jesus Christ answers this in our text this morning.

Now, there's an important set up in our text. When the lesson has a miracle, we can want to rush right on in and look at the miracle, because, let's face it, the miracles are really cool – but Jesus sets up everything first. He says to the 12 disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” See! Behold! When you hear “see” or “behold”, that was the Greek way of trying to get your attention. It was the way of saying “alright, what comes next is really, really important.” And Jesus tells us what's important. We're going to go to Jerusalem, and everything in the Old Testament will be accomplished, will be fulfilled. I'll be able to cry from the cross in just a few days, “It is Finished.” Because the promises of salvation will have been completed – I will have suffered and died for you, but I will also rise for you, so that you will be forgiven, so that life will be restored. The promise first given to Adam and Eve will come to completion – I will be bruised and battered, I will bear in My hands the mark of the nails, but Satan will be crushed under My heel, and you will have peace and salvation. Great stuff, right? This is the point, right? I mean, every Saturday/Sunday, every service here we gather together in this House of God and are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, right?

“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” And they just don't get it. It just didn't make sense. As we heard in last week's Gospel, seeing they did not see and hearing they didn't understand. And why? Their faith was really, really screwed up. Just completely off kilter. This is the third time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to suffer, die, be buried, and raised on the third day. You know – the heart of the Nicene Creed. And each of those three times, the disciples don't get it. In fact, in Matthew – we learn that first time Jesus says this, Peter pulls Jesus aside and tries to talk Him out of it – that's where we get that whole “Get thee behind Me, Satan” episode.
So why? I mean, these disciples followed Jesus, they heard Him all the time. Why was their faith so messed up? They understood none of it. It was hidden, they couldn't grasp it, couldn't get their minds around it. And why? Because that wasn't how they wanted the story to go. At that moment, their faith was not in a Jesus who would die and rise to give them forgiveness and everlasting life. They weren't interested in forgiveness or everlasting life yet. They wanted power and might. They wanted to help rule the Kingdom of Israel once Jesus, being the Messiah and Son of David and all, took it over. They wanted political power and the praise and adoration of men. A couple of the disciples were zealots even – people who had sworn their life to killing Romans – that's what they wanted. They wanted a Messiah who was going to kick some backside and take some names – and having Him be betrayed and flogged and killed, that wasn't how they wanted the story to go, that wasn't what they signed up for. That wasn't what they believed in – they believed in the false faith of their own power, the Jesus gravy train that they were going to ride.

And then they approach Jerusalem. Jericho is the last big town on the way. And what happens? “A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, right away, what is different with this blind fellow? He may not see, but hearing, he understands. Two and two have been put together in his mind. Jesus is the Son of David – He is the Messiah. And what is the purpose, what is the goal of the Messiah? What's the Messiah supposed to do according to the Scriptures? The point of the Messiah isn't violence and war – He's the Prince of Peace. The point of the Messiah is not riches and wealth or earthly might – He is poor and lowly, has no form or comliness that we should desire Him. The point of the Messiah is this - He comes to save, to show mercy. Hosanna – save us now. Kyrie Elesion – Lord, have mercy. And so the blind man calls out, rightly, for mercy. Calls out words we are still calling out to this very day in this very service. And folks tell him to shut it. You are annoying – just be quiet. And instead he calls out all the more.

“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, 'What do you want Me do to for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.'” So, what do you want? What are your expectations of Jesus? What are you thinking He should do? Do you want power and might? Are you going to ask to sit on His right and His left when He rules? No – the blind man makes a great request. Lord, let me recover my sight. Lord, I want that I should see again. Now, remember – this blind man gets who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, He is the LORD, He is the Son of David. And this blind man knows what the Scriptures say – when the Messiah comes, the deaf shall hear and the blind shall see. That's what Isaiah said – let what Isaiah said happen to me, Lord!

And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.'” Your faith has saved you, literally – that's what Jesus says. Now know and hear what Jesus is saying. So often when we think of or hear the word “faith” - especially our faith – we think of it as describing how hard, how strongly, how firmly we believe. Oh yeah, this guy kept whopping and hollering, and so that's why Jesus fixed his eyes. Nope. Not the point. There's a contrast in our Gospel text, dear friends, between the disciples and this blind man. The disciples don't see, they don't understand who Jesus is. Even as Jesus tells them that He will fulfill the Scriptures, it goes over their heads. The blind man though, has faith. And it's not so much that his faith is stronger or bigger – that's not the point. The point isn't the kind or quality of his faith – Jesus doesn't say “Your awesome ginormous faith has made you well.” The disciples believed really strongly that Jesus was going to beat the tar out of the Romans and it got them nothing. No, the point is that the blind man put his faith in the right place. He wasn't wanting some Jesus of his own devising, he wasn't just making up stuff on the fly, he wasn't just imagining some daddy warbucks in the sky. He heard the Word of God, and his faith was that Jesus would do what He said He would do in His Word. The disciples are pointed to the Scriptures – they get nothing. Not what they wanted. The blind man clung to the promises which God had made in the scriptures, and He received them.

When we speak of faith, when we say “by faith alone” - we aren't drawing attention to how strongly or deeply we believe. We aren't talking about how great of Christians we are. That's hogwash – we show up here and confess what the Scriptures say we are – poor, miserable sinners. No – when we say “by faith alone” we are confessing the importance of the promises that God has made to us in His Word, the promises of forgiveness and life and salvation, and we are confessing that we receive these not because of how great we are or how amazing we are, but rather because He is great and good, and He is true to His Word. Jesus is active – and we are receptive, and by faith we receive the good things that He has promised to give us. That's the faith that saves – faith in Christ Jesus, who fulfills the Word of God, who suffers and dies and rises on the third day for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.

This Wednesday, Lent kicks off. And Lent is a time of repentance, of contemplation. If you want to set yourself a fast, give something up for Lent – go ahead. The old German term for Lent was “fastenzeit” - Fasting Time. But the point of this, the point of the fasting or the extra services we'll have isn't to show or prove how great we are, how big our faith is. No – it's a time where we will see intensely what our faith is, Who our faith is, where we will see who this Jesus is and what He does for us. On the weekends, the Lenten texts show Jesus taking the battle to Satan and His minions. We've spent Epiphany seeing that Jesus is God – Lent shows us the Son of God going forth to war – fighting Satan, temptations, hunger, false doctrine – even fighting death itself upon the Cross. That is the Jesus we believe in. After Ash Wednesday, our midweek services will look at the great “I Am” statements Jesus makes in John's Gospel, so we would see clearly who this Jesus is in whom we believe. And the point is not to demonstrate our own greatness – but rather, so like the blind man we would hear the Word of God and see clearly that Jesus is our Messiah, that He is the Son of David come to mercy us, and that we might ever cling to this Jesus and Him alone forever more. God grant that by His Word and Spirit, we live in faith and walk with our Savior Jesus ever more. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Monday, February 1, 2016

Preaching to the Dying

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Often preachers can be tempted to forget a simple truth.  We are preaching to the dying.  And no, I don't mean this in some sort of Kennedy Dialog Explosion Evangelism (or whatever it was called) sort of way where you ask someone, "What would happen if you died tonight?"  That treats death like a hypothetical - it treats death as a possibility which possibly might be closer than they like to think.
Death isn't a possibility.  Your people are dying.  You are dying.  And you live in a world of death.  Even in the midst of life, we are *in* death.

Seriously.  Every moment of your life in this world, you are stuck in the middle of death.  If you pause to look, you'll see it all over, in your body, in your friends, in your relationships, in stuff, in the world itself.

Don't believe me?  Perhaps you would do well to recall how St. Paul defines death.  He defines death as the wages of of sin.  You realize that is the point there is Romans?  Normally we say "the wages of sin is death" and tend to think of it only in the direction of "I do bad things, therefore I will die."  We think of getting this payment or wage someday down the line.  Nope.  We get it now.

Or do you not realize that the impact of every sin is death?  Is taking something good and wonderful given to you by God and seeing it... break.  Change.  Decay.  Fall apart.  Each time you feel that muscle pull - there's a little bit of death for you.  Each time that little doodad breaks - that's a little bit of death for you.  Each time you say that harsh, cruel word, your doing a bit of killing and a bit of the blessing that relationship was to be dies a bit.

Look around.  Look around and see the wages of sin in you and all around you.

Don't try to hide from it.  Don't try to deny it - to push it off to some hypothetical point in the future.  That's death.  Your death.  Even here and now, because you are dying.

And you know what, O preacher?  Your people are dying.  They are sick to death because of sin.  And it's terminal.

And they might be in denial.  Shoot, you might be in denial.  You might think if you can just gussy them up a bit more virtue or civility that you've fixed things.  No.  Still dying.  Maybe that eases some of the pain, make dying a bit easier.  But even the most virtuous man you know is dying - just like the person who eats the healthiest diet and exercises the most is still going to shuffle off the mortal coil sooner or later.  Now, there's a place for moderation, for virtue.  It can be a great thing if you understand what it is for.  If you eat moderately and exercise because it improves the quality of your short, short earthly stay - great.  If you think it's going to make you live, well, give it a century and the tombstone will show you wrong.  Likewise, the philosophers of old debated what was virtuous - that is what made life better, less painful.  But if you think it's a cure for death, a cure for sin - well, that's like the poor sap who gave up bacon but still died of genetic heart disease in his 50s.  Tragic.

Nope.  We're preaching to the dying folks - and even if we can dull the pain a bit, we're still dying.  And often times, there's hurt and confusion and denial.  Most of your people won't see the the wages of sin as death (let's admit it, we don't like to see this as death ourselves).  We don't like sin producing death - it bothers us.  Terrifies the tarnation out of the Old Adam.

So, when you preach - take some time.  Be blunt and honest.  No one likes a physician who beats around the bush or hides behind big and complicated words.  Give it to them straight, Doc.  They are dying.  The wages of sin is death.  You are preaching to the dying.

Which is why you lay it out, you preach the law with its utter bluntness... and then you get to your real job.  When they see death - that's when the fun begins.  Yeah, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

See, if you remember that they are dying, you will remember what they need is life -- and not some dying "best life now" BS that is more befitting Joel Osteen or a politician trying to garner votes, but life.  Christ's life.  Life that will take this dying body, take me out of this body and death and raise me to new and real life.

I'm reminded of the words of Ignatius of Antioch in the letter to the Romans in which he says, "Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world" and "I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."

You show folks the harsh reality, the harsh truth that they are dying... and then you give them the sweet and wondrous truth.  Christ Jesus knew they were dying, and so He died for them already, so He rose for them already, and He forgives them and gives them life -- life now, life eternal.

What are you to preach to the Dying?  The same things, the same Gospel you'd sing into their ears if they were laying there near motionless and barely breathing on their death bed - because in reality they are dying now too, just as much, and they need the same comfort.

And take they our life, goods, goods, fame, child or wife,
Though these all be gone, our victory has been won,
The Kingdom ours remaineth

Once in the blest baptismal waters
I put on Christ and made Him mine;
Now numbered with God's sons and daughters,
I share His peace and love divine.
O God, for Jesus' sake I pray Your peace may bless my dying day.

Though death may threaten with disaster,
It cannot rob me of my cheer;
For He who is of death the Master
With aid and comfort e'er is near.
Lord, may Thy Body and thy Blood
Be for my soul the highest good!

For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev'ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessed comfort unto me
When living and when dying.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.